Reviews in this issue:
Odyssice - Moondrive Plus
Tracklist: Frustrations (8:14), And So Am I (5:09), Different Questions (5:35), The Final Decision (6:20), Losing Her (6:16), Power Loc (live) (6:00). CD-ROM Multimedia: Moon Drive (live) (6:27), Eager Attempt (rehearsal demo) (2:12) Demo Track (4:42)
Following on from the success of the Impressions album, Cyclops have had the good sense to re-release Moondrive, the debut EP by Dutch band Odyssice. Originally released in early 1997, the EP was, with the exception of a track on a compilation album some nine years earlier, the first commercially available material by a group that was originally formed in 1986. Musical differences had caused the disbanding of the original band resulting in a six-year hiatus in activity. Finally, the right combination of musicians - Bastiaan Peters (guitars), Jeroen van der Wiel (keyboards), Pascal van de Pol (bass) and Bart Kühne (drums) - and a flurry of writing sessions bought about a selection of strong material that the group set about capturing in the studio. Unfortunately, sales were not too dramatic. Too short for an album and too long for a single, the recordings rather fell by the wayside and did not gain the widespread attention the band sought.
From the opening bars of Frustrations one is immediately in the familiar musical territory that Camel reside in. Using that band as a frame of reference, this track most resembles the Stationary Traveller era. The guitar of Bastiaan Peters is very prominent and the playing is very Andy Latimer in feel and style. With no vocals, it is the guitar that provides most of the melody, which interacts well with the predominant piano and the lush synthesisers that fill out the sound. In many ways, the four original tracks of the Moondrive EP are best regarded as one long suite, enforced by the added sound effects between pieces that all portray a similar motoring theme. It is difficult, and probably pointless, to try and differentiate between the four tracks, the sum is better than the parts and it hands together well as one long piece. The playing is excellent, the elements are well structured and, even though it may be a bit over derivative of Camel in places, I for one am not complaining as there is sufficient originality and enough precision and skill in the execution for the music to stand up in its own right.
The reissue comes complete with two bonus tracks on the CD and a multimedia component to justify the status as a full album. First of the bonus cuts is Losing Her the track that first appeared on the Exposion 1988 compilation album. Considering the eight-year gap between the writing of this piece and the Moondrive EP, it has to be said that Losing Her does fit remarkably well as part of the album. Stylistically, the band hadn't changed much over the years even though three-quarters of the musicians had. The final CD track, a live version of the previously unreleased Power Loc recorded shortly after the original release of Moondrive, shows a different side of the band and has a rather more Pink Floyd / Rush feel to it. Two of the three multimedia tracks are rough demos recorded in the studio which are interesting enough in their own right but it is the final track, a video of the band performing Moonlive, with present drummer Menno Boomsma, that is well worth firing up the PC for.
Despite what many people assume, writing and performing good instrumental music is no mean feat. The musicians are exposing themselves to far greater scrutiny without a front man taking a lot of the attention. Not since the early days of Twelfth Night has an instrumental group made me sit up, listen, and want to hear more. As a consequence, immediately after hearing the album for the second time I ordered a copy of their Impressions album from Cyclops and now eagerly await the arrival of the postman each morning. Recommendation enough?!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Gerard - Irony Of Fate
Tracklist: Empty Lie, Empty Dream (6:21) Killing Our Mother Condemning Our Children (6:44) Orpheus (6:40) Ascending To Heaven (2:05) Crime Of The Future (5:42) The Pendulum parts 1-3 (11:52)
Gerard - Meridian
Tracklist: The Acts Of The Apostles (4:47) Orpheus – New Version (9:39) Meridian (3:02) Prelude- Instrumental Version (2:58) Evidence Of True Love (9:53) Revenge- Remixed (3:34) Melting Time-French Version (8:33)
There may be many of you that are already familiar with Gerard, as they have been in existence, in one form or another, since 1984, so forgive me if I’m preaching to the converted, but I only encountered their work recently, and was so impressed that I acquired three CD’s in quick succession. When I noted that they have not been previously covered on this site, I thought it was worthwhile reviewing the discs. Although these are not recent releases, they seem to be readily available from most of the main specialist prog dealers.
Frequently compared to ELP and Triumvirat, Gerard are primarily the vehicle for keyboard wizard Toshio Egawa (ex-Novella), accompanied on the later two releases by Atsushi Hasegawa on bass and Masuhiro Goto on drums. Robin Suchy guests on vocals, as does Tomoki Ueno (Outer Limits, Déjà Vu) on one track.
Irony Of Fate is by an earlier incarnation of the group, featuring Egawa with Yukihiro Fujimura on guitars, Toshimi Nagai on fretless bass and Kota Igarashi on drums. This release features more of a conventional group sound with plenty of guitars to balance the keyboard pyrotechnics of Egawa. He is much more restrained on this disc than on the other two.
The overall sound of Irony is in an Eighties Neo-Prog style, with some more complex arrangements, moments of bombast and some metal flashes. There are a few gentle ballads (My Heart To The Past, Prelude), which are never less than pleasant. The vocals are a mixture of Japanese and fairly hesitant English (some times in the same song). They are competent, if not great, but don’t generally spoil things.
The best tracks are:
- Irony Of Fate which marries elements of Yes, Genesis and ELP with the newer sounds of Marillion, Rush and perhaps a hint of Dream Theater. This track features the band at the peak of its powers, with no vocals to interrupt the instrumental flow.
- My Eyes To The Panic, a fiery instrumental which hints at the bombast to come, and which has a spiky guitar solo over stop/start rhythms, creating an almost Crimsonic air of menace.
- Good Night Sleep Tight which is the album’s mini epic, clocking in at over nine minutes and featuring a variety of moods ranging from romantic ballad to swaggering pomposity to acoustic guitar sections, with lots of flashy solos along the way.
This is a pretty good album all in all, and makes a nice introduction to the group. However, after this it was all change, with the move to a leaner trio format but managing to create a much fuller sound. The guitars have gone but Egawa more than compensates with a full-on barrage of keyboard pyrotechnics.
The Pendulum is a much better album than its predecessor, taking the trio format patented by ELP, Trace and others and pushing the sound to new levels of intensity and vigour. Yes, it is overblown and pretty much in your face, with pompous arrangements and fast-and-furious solos a plenty, but it’s also hugely enjoyable. There is an undeniable orchestral grandeur running throughout the disc, but married with the power and ferocity of a prog metal band. There is little or no Neo influence left to be found.
Another plus is the presence of Canadian vocalist, Robin Suchy, who has a very appealing voice and adds a much needed improvement to the vocal department.
It is much harder to single out individual tracks as they all positively ooze with splendour and magnificence, but Orpheus (with an impressive vocal performance) Crime Of the Future and the closing epic The Pendulum are all worthy of special attention, featuring some fantastic organ and synth work.
This CD is a keyboard fan’s dream and comes highly recommended, but is not for those of a nervous disposition.
Meridian is a collection of re-recorded tracks by the new trio format of Gerard, revisiting Prelude from Irony Of Fate and Orpheus from The Pendulum, together with other earlier tracks. Prelude ditches the vocals and considerably improves the overall sound, retaining the sweet melody but adding more vitality to the arrangement.
Orpheus stretches the original by a further three minutes, but the vocals are weaker, so this is only a partially successful reworking.
I haven’t heard the original versions of the other tracks, but here they all sound good, with the same bombastic approach as can be found on The Pendulum. Again, keyboards are the main course, with enough to satisfy the largest of appetites, and with an impressive side order of bass and drums to round things off.
Robin Suchy makes a welcome appearance on Evidence Of True Love. The track has a lovely haunting melody and Suchy’s voice imbues it with a magical quality. The Acts Of The Apostles is an upbeat romp of a track, with a memorable melody and tons of great keys. Revenge is chock full of swirling, lightning fast keyboard runs, and bristles with energy. Melting Time is another minor epic, and rattles along at such a frenetic pace that it leaves you exhausted. Luckily it mellows out slightly towards the end, with a nice sweeping melody, so you should have enough energy left at the end to press the button to restart the disc at the beginning. Trust me, you may well want to.
This is another very enjoyable disc, perhaps not quite as strong as The Pendulum, which may be down to it being a collection of older tracks, but the performances are uniformly impressive and it would be a worthwhile addition to your collection.
In closing, you will have gathered by now that I really like Gerard, but you should bear in mind that received wisdom indicates that these may not even be Gerard’s best albums. I have seen rave reviews of both The Ruins Of A Glass Fortress (from 2001) and Sighs Of The Water (2002) and I can’t wait to get my hands on them. There is also the joint album with Ars Nova (a Japanese all-female Keyboard trio) called Keyboard Triangle, where the two groups try their hands at cover versions of some of the genre greats like ELP and Trace. Sounds like a tasty item to me.
For now though, I suggest you start with The Pendulum.
Irony Of Fate : 7 out of 10
The Pendulum : 8.5 out of 10
Meridian : 8 out of 10
London Underground - Through A Glass Darkly
Tracklist: End Of The Race (3:41), Travelling Lady (5:31), Sermonette (4:14), The Days of Man (4:06), Analonihum (5:30), A Beautiful Child (4:44), Through A Glass Darkly (3:27), Cryptical Purple Browne Orhcarde (3:51), Can't Find The Reason (3:46), Everything Is Coming To An End (3:13), Another Rude Awakening (5:25)
Occasionally one comes across a press release accompanying an album that is absolutely hilarious, and almost verging on the ridiculous. Actually this happened with the album of London Underground and for various reasons did not allow me to approach the first few spins within the right frame of mind. Trying to place this album within the category of a lost album from the sixties, and also alluding to The Beatles, might be stretching things a bit too far!
On the other hand one has to admit that the band have managed to recreate a sound that is very similar to that which came out of the British Blues-Rock scene of the late sixties. This was an era that was a precursor to bands such as Led Zeppelin whereby the roots would be entrenched within blues yet which possessed a flair of its own, helped in no mean way by the addition of the Hammond organ. Early pioneers of this style would be bands such as Greenslade, The Nice, Atomic Rooster, Argent and of course Deep Purple.
Back to London Underground. The band take their name from the very name of the musical style they play as this music was the underground music of London during the late sixties, yet the band do not come from England but from Italy, a country were fashion and music work hand in hand and whose musical tastes mirrored that of England during the same period. Suffice to say that progressive rock had (and in some cases still does have) an almost fanatical following. One thing that I have learnt over the years is that Italians have very poor pronunciation when it comes to the English language, however, thankfully, London Underground possess an impeccable command of the English language and where it not for the liner notes and obvious Italian names and surnames I would have easily been duped into thinking of them as a British band.
The album itself is a throwback to the swinging sixties with two cover versions fitting in snugly within the band's own compositions,. These are Travelling Lady (Manfred Mann Chapter Three) and Can't Find The Reason (Atomic Rooster) both of which are covered admirably. Elsewhere there are references to early Pink Floyd with Gilmour-like licks such as on Analonihum whilst Sermonette smacks of the Barret-era Floyd. A Beautiful Child has that Argent quality whereby the song possess that continuous crescendo within it as Daniele Caputo's voice soars above the instruments.
Commenting on the overall musical nature of the album, it is one of those albums that one can listen to without finding a fault in any one of the tracks . Some people might comment that the band are playing music that has already been exploited to the maximum and that they are not really doing anything that is essentially new. However, the last couple of years has seen a strong revival in the retro-rock scene with bands such as King Of Leon, The Coral , The Strokes and The Darkness topping various charts around the world. London Underground are the first band (to my knowledge) that have come out with such a brand of retro-rock over the last year or so and I believe that their main problem to possible success lies within the fact that they do not have the backing of the English speaking magazines. This album would be loved by all those who follow this particular brand of rock. Calling it progressive rock may be slightly too bombastic, yet on the other hand one could easily say that many of the people to listen to this album would be the progressive rock lovers because much of the bands who popularised this style of music were the progenitors of the "classic" progressive rock of the seventies. I would give this band a try!
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Cherno - Slight Trick All Around
Tracklist: OIL (3:54), Alternative Be Bop (5:11), 13 Step To Hell (3:40), Deus Ex Machina (7:33), Night, Day & Night (5:00), Object F (4:25), Scarlet Panther (4:23), Are U OK? (5:12), Bloody Mary (6:54), Dancing Stone (5:45), S.Q.A.R.P. (7:16), Dancing Magma (7:59)
Cherno saw the light in the Tokyo music scene, consisting of two members they appear to be giving a gig in Tokyo underground scene at least once a month. On the Records label web site it is stated that their music style is between prog and noise, music influenced by King Crimson or Magma. Cherno have released three tape albums between 1996 to 1997 with a drummer. Vital records have reissued these tapes on one CD as Trigonometric Reactor in 2003. Cherno have also released Missing Illusion in 1999 and Slight Trick All Around in 2003 on Vital Records.
This album has been in my possession for quite sometime before I started writing this review. Normally I listen to an album a number of times before writing a review. Not this album, after a first quick scan I was not able to listen to it as a whole. So I started writing another review and after a while retried Cherno, but again I was not able to sit out the complete album. Because I am sure I am not missing something here I write this review based on a very minimal listening experience.
First off although Cherno might refer to their music as being progressive rock, I would describe it as avant-garde rock, with maybe a small slice of fusion. This is an instrumental only album and all the tracks have a real annoying alto sax tune. In some tracks I could discover a mildly interesting guitar track but because it is hard to filter out the saxophone none of the tracks really is worthwhile. A track by track review would state just that: all tracks are saxophone combined with guitar, therefore I will not even bother.
This album does not have an entry in ccdb and that should account for something. I think I have a broad taste in progrock and also understand that there is of course music out there that other progressive rock fans like while I do not. Cherno certainly is not of the first category and doubt that it is of the second. So my advice would be to only buy this album if you are in the market for highly experimental avant-garde music. 'Normal' DPRP readers should not bother, this album is no good for them.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10